Haint: poems

by Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Inaugural Selection for the Giron/Valdez Series for Unique Voices in Literature

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Haint on Barnes & Noble.com

2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry
2016 Finalist in the Amsterdam Book Festival for Poetry
2016 Runner Up in the Great Midwest Book Festival for Poetry

Poets’ Prize
2017 Before Columbus Foundation Book Award for Poetry
2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry
2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry
2017 Pushcart Prize
2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Award
2017 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry
2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Poetry
2016 Norma Farber First Book Award for Poetry
2016 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry
2016 Great Midwest Book Festival Award for Poetry
2016 National Book Award for Poetry
2016 Amsterdam Book Festival Award for Poetry
2016 Washington Publishers-Book Design & Effectiveness Award
2016 Virginia Festival of the Book

Haint on Youtube.com

Advanced Praise:

”A haint is a term for the dead, but in Teri Cross Davis' hands, Haint is a book of life. Not a book of survival, though the poet survives, not a book of reckoning, though the poet comes to terms with many things. Haint is a book of choices, and witnessing. A book of learning the bodies, territories, pleasures and sorrows. A book that constructs the irrepressible center of a soul, page by page, plank by plank. A book a reader will put down after reading and mutter yes to themselves, haunted.”
—Cornelius Eady, Miller Family Chair, The University of Missouri

“Science tells us that skin is our largest organ. Poet Teri Cross Davis reminds us that skin is both collective history and individual testimony—a maze, a frustration, a celebration. Her extraordinary debut, Haint, asks us to consider every consequence of the female form, from the quiet ecstasies of Morning Ritual to the methodical way a woman cuts an apple for her dying father-in-law; pulling no punches, an Ode to Now ‘n’ Laters is chased with a wrenching consideration of pre-teen pregnancy. Davis is a master of shifting dictions to surprise. In Odalisque, we venture the perspective not of the central white nude, but of the black maid forced to stand naked behind her: ‘You bleed like I bleed / but we ain’t friends.’ A few pages later, the sonnet Knell invites, ‘Haunt this empty space if you will.’ This collection, which hums and startles, will echo in the reader for months to come.”

—Sandra Beasley, author of I Was the Jukebox and Count the Waves

“Exploring the psychic interstices of coming-of-age, love, marriage, and motherhood, these meditations on desire, hunger, loss, birth, nurture, and violence raise questions and challenge assumptions about Black woman’s selfhood under the sign of haint. From the haunting past (ancestors showing in the resoluteness of skin and hair, or speaking from the margins of their eclipsed histories; the memory of parental discord literally marking the body; or, the negotiation of one’s sense of belonging, whether in Africa or Ohio) to the unrelenting present with its insistent hungers, the essential terrain here is the primal knowing (eros) of girls and women, and the particular valences, both tender and terrible, of such knowing. Teri Ellen Cross Davis conveys a grown woman’s hard-won wisdom, acknowledging the snares of seeking acceptance or understanding, much less abiding love, in a world where one might be rendered spectral, indecent, or crazy, even. Ultimately, the vulnerabilities, boldness, passion, and fears on display in this moving collection forge a new song of self-affirmation.”
—Sharan Strange, member, Dark Room Collective, and author of Ash and chapbook The Quotient of Injustice

“What Teri Ellen Cross Davis writes in her poem I’ll Be There is an apt description of the power and yearning this book is: ‘It’s a breaking heart’s last hope of reunion....’ Although heartbreak is the origin of so many of these poems, it’s love that makes them go. Love to which they plead and aspire and pray.“
—Ross Gay, 2016 Kingsley Tufts Prize, 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, author of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude


Haint by Teri Cross Davis opens with a poem, Fade to Black, that creates a map of the body, puts a lens to a life: ‘Only now can pixels completely capture/ the mulatto ancestors...‘. I am reminded of the power of the body as Ta- Nehisi Coates writes of it in Between the World and Me—the way fear is embodied in the generations. But here, in Fade to Black, we register fully a life seen close up. In the world of film there is the alteration and erasure of the African American, until now never come fully into the light. Teri Cross Davis takes us headlong into this denial and now gives full credence to ownership— ‘a mirror, and I discover me/ learning how slow love is, ever slower/ acceptance, but traveling down the only road I want to know.’ A powerful opening to this collection of poems.

A deep intelligence governs this work and a struggle to look squarely at a culture—peoples of many cultures in actuality—intentionally wiped clean of its history. I consider the strangeness of this when I stand at the edge of a massacre pit in a village where many of my own family lived, that part of my history that can never be known to me. What must it feel like when an African American makes that first journey back to Africa, to Nairobi, Kenya, as Teri Cross Davis did, learning Swahili, crossing the immense distance in time, to attempt to fill in what is missing. Simon Schama wrote once that we must study history not only through the texts but through the archives of our feet. I have never understood why the shade of our skin should have any bearing on how we envision one another. My own DNA tells me that I originated in East Africa.

In more than one poem we come to what Sterling Brown called ‘folk speech’: ‘not limited but capable of tragedy, irony, the blues, pithy, epigrammatic, hitting a straight lid with a crooked stick’ according to Zora Neale Hurston. Sterling says he learned the arts and sciences at Williams and Harvard, ‘but I learned the humanities at Virginia Seminary.’ What I hear in this language are the remnants of African languages as they evolved over a long time and melded with various forms of English and were then invented anew, but somehow kept their identity. Plainer to see in places like the Georgia Sea Islands and other more isolated places.

In Why Persephone we get a poem in two versions. I think of Sterling Brown's poem After Winter with its beautiful refrain in the folk language of his people: Butterbeans fo’ Clara / Sugar corn/o’ Grace/Ah’ 'fo de little feller/ Runnin’ space. In Teri Cross Davis’s poem we meet Hades, the mighty Zeus of the Underworld who ‘breaks the earth apart/for want of his own piece of sun—ersephone,’ and this part is followed by another whole version: ‘she got to stay fo’ half duh year/ in some place she never asked to be.’

Consciousness of difference follows the child all her growing up days and is experienced in various ways for those in segregated communities vs. integrated communities. With the coming of puberty, the poems trace a life as it comes into its fullness and its awareness. Dear Diary, is a poem in full dialect—the tale of a girl’s pregnancy, giving birth, the death of the baby at the hand of its father and the girl’s primary concern about what she’ll tell her schoolmates. In other work we find a child who ends up taking responsibility for the behavior of adults, yet proves helpless to do so. These penetrating themes and the courage to let them be shown, as in Scar Tissue: A Bop, are reminders of the cost In Akron at Night mother and daughter take an unknown path, their small adventure together, building something new.

Teri Cross Davis tells the hard stories straight, as when in Laps the narrator’s brother’s wheelchair rolls down a driveway out of control. ‘I see the curved black tongue/ of the driveway, its mouth opening to the residential street The eagerness/ to spill my brother into some red Taurus’ unsuspecting bumper...’. We are here for the long haul, for the journey, which we willingly take.

Intermingled with a hard look at the past, comes the delicate longing of a girl in ‘Sixteen’: ‘A tendril reaching/for the weak sun/ of early spring’ who asks for laughter and love but concludes with the hard reality— ‘I was foolish in this and all things.’

Yet later, fulfillment does come into this life. Our narrator makes claim to love (Morning Ritual Hair) and holds off time’s relentless journey. We see the deepest empathy for the other: ‘I wish for snow. To bury your hurt clean,’ (Work Calendar) on the death of her partner's father.

Searching is a pivotal poem in this collection. When the poet returns to Africa, she is confronted by the existential dilemma: ‘I am the bastard of Uncle Sam/ and Mother Africa is senile,/ does not recognize her child's child.’ And later: ‘I came here/ the newest renovation/ African-American,/ I left, black American.’ I am reminded of a visit years ago to the Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress, listening to Alex Haley describing his first trip to the village of his ancestors. ‘Their eyes raked over me,’ he said. They found him wanting. Never had he felt the power and horror of slavery as he did at that moment. Teri Cross Davis has the courage to make this complex experience come to life, to address it, to let her readers know what it feels like, and to tell them that she will go on, facing and giving life to a new level of understanding that is seldom addressed.”

—Myra Sklarew, author of Harmless

Biography of Teri Ellen Cross Davis:
Teri Ellen Cross Davis is a Cave Canem fellow and has attended the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work has been published in many anthologies including, Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, Growing Up Girl, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, and Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees. Her work can also be read in the following publications: Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Gargoyle, Natural Bridge, The Sligo Journal, ArLiJo, Mi Poesias, Torch, Poet Lore and is forthcoming in the North American Review and the Puerto Del Sol blog. She currently lives in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, poet Hayes Davis and their two children.